SDGs and human rights

Published : 31 Aug 2021 07:56 PM | Updated : 31 Aug 2021 11:56 PM

Along with some other countries Bangladesh set an example for others to follow through the achievement of most of the Millennium Development Goals within the specified time-period. This persuaded and encouraged Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the United Nations to adopt in September 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG).

The creation of this path to promote sustainable development was undertaken through the setting up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, according to sociologists and economists, would not only help to promote equality and economic development but would also facilitate protection of human rights.

Analysts involved with SDG Affairs and our National Human Rights Commission have pointed out in the past that the objectives with three dimensions of sustainable development refer to economic growth, environment sustainability and social inclusion. The goals form a “cohesive and integrated package of global aspirations and provide a framework for shared action” for people’s prosperity that can be earned through collaborative partnership.

These 17 goals have also determined 169 targets that are globally acceptable on the basis of differing national realities, capacities and levels of development and respect for national policies and priorities. The SDGs are consequently not only participatory in nature but also people-centric, integrated and more complex than the MDGs.

The most important connotation of the SDG parameter is highlighted through its axiom- “Leaving no one behind”. The collective denotation of the SDGs also suggests that the approaches towards meeting the objectives need to be careful and accountable use of resources through inclusive policies.

Strategic analysts generally agree that the 2030 Agenda related to the achievement of SDGs recognizes human rights as a foundation and considers the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as the platform. In this regard, international human rights treaties that emphasize on state responsibilities to respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind is given priority.

At this juncture it would be pertinent to recall here the two comments of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. Sheikh Hasina has observed- “Let us commit our will and wealth for our present and future in our journey. No one will be left behind as we aspire to build a just, progressive, peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh.” Guterres has commented “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals. Unity is our path. Our future depends on it.”

Out of 17 goals within the SDG structure, 9 goals- 1, 3,4,5,6,8,10, 16 and 17- and their relevant targets correspond to essential dimensions of human rights commitments pertaining to States as outlined in different international legal treaties. Such Agreements include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

It would be relevant to highlight at this juncture some of the sustainable development goals and their linkage with the UDHR and other International Covenants. This will underline the universal ramifications with regard to their application.

SDG-1 which seeks to end poverty in all its forms everywhere is expected to implement social protective measures and also ensure equal access of men and women to economic resources. This reflects in principle what is expected through Articles 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 of CEDAW and Articles 22 and 25 of UDHR.

SDG-3 is aimed at creating and esuring healthy lives and promotion of well-being for all at all ages. It also targets maternal mortality and ending preventable deaths among children. In addition there is also emphasis on reducing AIDS, providing affordable health coverage, carrying on vaccine research, reproductive healthcare and access to medicines. These factors are all consistent with Articles 3 and 25, 27 and 28 of UDHR and also with Article 10 of ICESCR.

SDG-4 is attempting to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of learning opportunities for all- at primary and secondary levels, improving vocational skills, expanding education facilities and training of teachers. These are consistent with Articles 26 and 28 of UDHR, Article 10 of CEDAW and Article 6 of ICESCR.

SDG-5 is trying to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Its targets include elimination of discrimination and violence, valuing unpaid care and domestic work, ensuring access to reproductive healthcare and equal access of women to economic resources. These targets are consistent with Articles 1 to 6 and 12 of CEDAW and also with Articles 7 and 10 of ICESCR.

SDG-6 deals with ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The targets under this goal include universal and equitable access to safe, affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all, reducing pollution, increasing water-use efficiency and promoting participatory management of water and sanitation services. The aspirations under this goal are particularly applicable for relatively poorer countries with high density of population and lack of necessary consumer infrastructure. These targets are similar to the expectations in Article 25 of UDHR, Article 11 of the ICESCR and Article 14 of CEDAW. 

SDG-8 is associated with promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, productive employment opportunities, eradicating forced and child labor and trafficking, protecting labor rights of migrant workers and increasing the access of workers to financial services. This goal is of particular significance to Bangladesh because nearly 9 million Bangladeshis are currently engaged as expatriate workers abroad in different parts of the world. The objectives within this goal are consistent with Articles 4 and 23 of UDHR, Article 11 of CEDAW and Article 32 of CRC.

SDG-10 is aiming to reduce inequality within and among countries. The targets within this goal includes reducing inequality within and among countries and promoting higher growth rates for the bottom 40 per cent (which normally includes the ultra poor), promoting social, economic and political inclusion, reducing inequalities in the matrix of opportunities, ensuring social protection for all, securing participation in economic decision making, facilitating migration as an optional factor and also reducing transaction costs for migrant remittances. These targets are consistent with the expectations included in Articles 2, 21 and 22 of UDHR and Articles 47 and 64 of CMW.

SDG-16 refers to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, reducing the prospect of violence, upholding the rule of law, reducing illegal financial and arms flows, developing effective institutions and participation in decision making at all levels. These objectives are consistent with expectations contained in Articles 3, 6, 8, 10, 19 and 21 of UDHR and Articles 19 and 37 of CRC. The various dimensions touched upon by this goal have attracted specific attention among all developing countries.

SDG-17 focuses on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. The targets within the ambit of this goal include critical issues like debt sustainability, technology transfer and capacity building, promoting trade, enhancing institutional coherence, respecting policy space of different countries (to avoid charges of external interference), promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships and ensuring disaggregated data. Articles 12, 27 and 28 of UDHR and Article 1 of ICCPR figure prominently within the connotations of the targets included in this goal.

It appears that the relevant authorities within the Bangladesh Administration have been treating the SDG exercise with great seriousness. Our 7th Five Year Plan (2016-20) had been aligned with the objectives enumerated within the SDG and different Ministries and Administrative Divisions had been allocated responsibility with regard to pragmatic implementation of the different objectives in a constructive, coordinated and integrated manner. Now, despite the negative impact of the Covid Pandemic, efforts are underway to overcome the socio-economic challenges that will gradually emerge during the five years- 2021-2025.

It is being anticipated that the need to implement the required SDG and associated activities will require active inclusion and support within the framework of the 8th and 9th Five Year Plans that will conclude in 2025 and 2030 respectively. This process will require massive funding on a continuous basis. It will also need active participation from all sectors of our social and economic framework including existing civil society, the private sector and academia.

There will be evolving challenges related to processing of data and assessing progress within different target heads. It will also require special attention with regard to promulgation of varied regulatory Acts.

We have already made some progress in this regard through the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2009, Special Integrated Education Policy for Disabled Person, 2009, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disability Act, 2013 and 2015 and National Women Development Policy, 2011.

These efforts have led analysts to believe that if we can sustain stability and generate sufficient political will, as we did in the case of the MDGs, we will also be able to achieve the required success pertaining to the SDGs.


Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.